Who are you looking at?
April 23, 2011 2 Comments
When it was my turn at the counter, he proudly presented me with the disembodied head (well, half a head, sliced vertically) and gave me a huge smile.
“I’ll put this in for free,” he said, searching my face for a sign of appreciation. Instead he found my mouth gaping in horror. Once I got over my initial reaction, I tried to compose myself.
“Oh thank you, but …um …I’m American and …uhhh …we usually don’t eat …those …parts.” The whole time my eyes are darting around the shop, trying to avoid eye-contact with the poor little half a lamb staring up at me. The woman next in line glared at me jealously.
“What about your husband? Won’t he like it?” the butcher asked, confused by my reaction.
In an attempt to not make my hubs sound like a total wuss, I replied, “Well he was brought up abroad, in cultures that don’t eat heads either.” Lame response, but I had to give some explanation for not accepting my butcher’s generosity.
This is one thing that took me a while to get used to in Italian culture and food: the head. Restaurants will serve you a whole fish, who then watches you from the plate as you eat him. Supermarkets sometimes only sell fresh shrimp whole, forcing you to tediously pluck the heads and legs off of each one if you want to make scampi. There are even cured meats that contain parts of pig head (ever heard of coppa? It’s good…)
But the lamb’s head at Easter dinner is especially coveted.
A couple years ago I was at my boyfriend’s (now ex) house for Easter. The whole family was there: parents, siblings, nieces, nephews, and grandparents. I was seated across the table from the old Sicilian grandmother, widowed years ago and who wore only black. She was deaf as a post, and wore those thick old-lady glasses that gave her googly eyes.
Seeing as how I was unable to communicate with her properly, I was engaged in conversation with my boyfriend’s sister sitting next to me. While chatting, I unintentionally served myself the lamb’s head, which I didn’t notice until I turned my attention to my plate and stuck my fork in its cheek. I was mortified. I didn’t want to make a scene or offend my hosts by putting it back, so I leaned over to my boyfriend and quietly asked him to remove the meat from my plate. He was equally disgusted, and therefore offered no help.
Suddenly, the old Sicilian grandma, who was so short she barely cleared the table, reached over and stuck her fork in the lamb’s eye. Without saying a word she took the head and plopped it on her own plate. With a satisfied smile, she continued to enjoy her Easter lunch.
Here’s the recipe for my super simple Easter lamb:
Leg of lamb, butterflied
Have your butcher butterfly the leg for you, so it’s just about cut up in pieces but still attached. The day before you plan on cooking it, smother it with olive oil, stick whole cloves of garlic in each slice, and sprinkle with pepper, thyme and rosemary. Cover and put it in the fridge overnight.
When ready to cook, preheat oven at 180°C (or 360°F). When oven is hot, put in the lamb, covered with aluminum foil. After 30 minutes, remove cover and cook for another 15 minutes.
Salt to taste and serve! You can squeeze a slice of lemon over it too …I forgot to get lemons when I made it though, and it was still awesome!